Gemologist Tina Little discovered up-and-coming jeweler Michael Beaudry at the 1996 New York Jewelry Show, and it changed her professional life. At the time, Little was the manager of the jewelry department at Sarasota’s Saks Fifth Avenue, but she sensed that Beaudry was a rising star, and her eye for spotting talent gave her the confidence to quit her job and open her own store. Within 30 days, she obtained financing from a private angel and welcomed her first customers to Queens’ Wreath Jewels.
That was in 1999. A year later, brandishing strong initial sales numbers, Little went back to Beaudry—who, at 41, is now one of the most respected jewelry designers in the luxury niche—and asked if he would do a trunk show for her in Sarasota.
He did, customer response was enthusiastic, and the two have been a powerhouse duo ever since. Little continues to show and sell Beaudry’s designs, along with a variety of other luxury jewelry. Her store, now on St. Armands Circle, is one of the region’s most upscale jewelry businesses, with customers—many of them from Sarasota—who have the ability and desire to pay six figures for an heirloom-quality piece.
Being an upscale retail jeweler is not a bad position to be in these days, according to both Little and Lauren Thompson, public affairs coordinator for the New York-based industry trade association Jewelers of America.
“Retail jewelers are experiencing greater sales growth than other retailers,” Thompson says. “Consumers will pay more for quality. And high-end consumers are still shopping. Ken Gassman, president of the Jewelry Industry Research Institute, predicted that the higher-end retail jewelers might see growth as high as eight to 12 percent.”
“We tend to sell at the extremes,” she says. “We’re living in a bubble here in Sarasota, as far as a luxury market goes.”
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